The Clift family recalled 200 years of history when it reunited in Breeza in late October.
Almost 100 Clift descendants celebrated the arrival in Australia of the first Clift family member, Samuel Clift senior, at the bicentennial reunion at Cynisca Homestead – the only surviving property of the Clift brothers’ era of Breeza Station.
The reunion was hosted by sixth-generation descendant Deb Clift, assisted by Kim Powell (nee Clift) who contacted family members from near and far.
Tony Clift, another sixth-generation descendant, launched his 200-page book on the history of Breeza Station and of the early Clift family involved in that enterprise. Appropriately, the site of the reunion featured in his book.
Another descendant, Ænone McRae Clift, provided an updated family tree and said there were about 725 living descendants of Samuel Clift and Ann Duff.
The oldest family member at 94, Noel Clift of Tamworth, cut his birthday cake on the day. The gathered family also signed a tablecloth made by Gail Clift of Queensland, which was embroidered with first-and second-generation Clift names, properties and outlines of station infrastructure.
Today, some Clift descendants still have farming land in the district, while others are scattered across Australia and the globe.
From convict life to colonial dynasty
Samuel Clift came from humble convict beginnings and arrived in Australia after being convicted of having forged notes in his possession, and transported with a sentence of 14 years.
Although he signed his name with an “X” due to a lack of writing skills, by the time of his death in 1862, Mr Clift had created a colonial dynasty.
In 1822, Samuel gained his ticket of leave, which meant he could work for himself in a specified district, and two years later he married Ann Duff at Windsor.
Ann was the daughter of an aging soldier and it is believed that Samuel worked for him in the butchering trade supplying fresh meat to the government stores.
When Ann’s father retired from the army, the government gave him a land grant of 40 hectares in the upper Hunter Valley at Jerry’s Plains, and all the family members moved there in 1825.
Soon after, Samuel ventured out on his own, buying 24 hectares of land on Wallis Creek at Maitland where, over time, he constructed a succession of dwellings, all of which survive today.
Samuel obtained his Certificate of Freedom in 1831 and as his wealth grew, so did his family. In total, Ann and Samuel had 10 children – six boys and four girls, with one dying in early infancy.
In east Maitland, Samuel started a butcher’s shop but also built up his grazing enterprise by buying and leasing more lands. He later built and acquired hotels and other commercial buildings and pursued other interests in and around Maitland.
The first pit on the Greta coal seam was sunk on one of Samuel’s properties and because the Hunter Valley was quickly being settled, to expand his grazing enterprise Samuel ventured west over the dividing range.
In the mid-1830s, he acquired a squatting run named Doona, situated between today’s Breeza and Caroona villages.
From this first property, Samuel quickly added the adjoining Mooki River run in 1837, Breeza in 1849 and finally Weia Weia Creek in 1854.
They totalled more than 200,000 acres of freehold and leasehold lands. Known overall as Breeza Station, the aggregation stretched from Spring Ridge and Goran Lake in the west to the ranges east of Werris Creek.
Samuel’s sons – William, Joseph, James, Samuel and George – purchased the station four months prior to his death in 1862 and ran it into the 20th century as the Clift Brothers partnership.
At its peak, they were shearing more than 100,000 sheep, ran up to 1000 head of cattle and bred draught horses, totalling up to 800 at times.
As well as having their own dwellings at Breeza Station, four of brothers had town houses in and around Maitland and pursued other business interests as well. They also strongly contributed to numerous charities and church activities, with three of them becoming magistrates in the early colonial legal system – even though they were sons of a convict.
Throughout the generations, many members of the Clift family have been heavily involved in the horse racing industry. Three of the brothers built the Maitland Racecourse at Rutherford in the late 19th century and Bushranger Thunderbolt, who always needed a fast horse for a speedy getaway, was known to “borrow” one of their racehorses.
With closer settlement legislation, family deaths and property succession to various family members by the early 1900s, the aggregation had been much reduced and split, with the Breeza Station name centering on the homestead lands near Breeza Village.
Those lands finally passed out of Clift family’s ownership in 1984 after more than a century.